MHRA calls for substantial medium-term support measures to save the tourism sector

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) takes note of what was communicated through the media that Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that the COVID-19 wage supplement and the EUR100 vouchers which were due to expire this month have been extended till the end of October 2020. 

MHRA President Tony Zahra states that, “the dynamic situation which our members are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now calls for a clear direction by Government in addressing the coming months till the opening of the next summer season.” Business forecasts are currently being drawn up by MHRA members for the coming winter period in order to take important business decisions which will have an impact on the employment of many and the economy in general. Therefore, any piecemeal support initiatives by Government at this stage risk causing more damage than benefit to our sector. MHRA reiterates that any form of Government support needs to be substantial and based on a medium term basis given that at a global level, business across the travel, hospitality and tourism sector will undoubtedly drop substantially over the coming 7 months due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Towards this end MHRA calls on Government to take the following key actions: 

  • extend the wage subsidies for Hotels and Restaurants up to March 2021;
  • keep up the momentum of business generated in the restaurant sector through the vouchers scheme and other subsidies on rent and energy bills by increasing the wage subsidy to restaurants employees to 800 euro;
  • ensure that new recruits who replace employees who left their respective organizations will be made eligible for the 800 euro wage subsidy. 

These are challenging times and MHRA pledges to keep working together with the authorities to ensure that the tourism, hospitality, and travel sector remains an important element in the Maltese economy. These are times of seeking synergies and not divisions in the best interest of citizens, employees, and employers.

MHRA will not be used as a scapegoat for second wave of COVID-19

Following various reports in the media, press statements and personal attacks on its President, the MHRA Council states that it is wrong and deceitful to try and use the Association or its President as a scapegoat for what is happening on the Island.

The Council of the MHRA, made up of 15 Members representing the Hotels and Restaurants, has discussed internally every lobbying decision taken which has been communicated by its President and MHRA Press Releases. As the spokesperson for the MHRA, Mr Tony Zahra has the unequivocal support of the whole Council of the Association. It would also be pertinent to point out that Tony Zahra has no direct investment in any Hotel or Restaurant and thereby derives no direct benefit from the Hotel and Catering industry and any comment made to the contrary is incorrect and serves only to damage the reputation of Mr. Zahra underhandedly.

The Tourism industry employs over 10,000 people directly and a further 10,000 indirectly. It is responsible for generating 2.1 billion Euro a year into the economy with a very large multiplier effect on the economy. When the MHRA fights for Tourism it is fighting to ensure that jobs within the industry are retained and to ensure that the economy continues to prosper to everyone’s benefit including all other businesses servicing Tourism.

The Council of the MHRA deplores the attacks being made on the Association as well as the personal attacks on its President and would like to make the following points to clarify the position of the Association:

1. The MHRA has always lobbied for the Tourism industry to be strengthened locally and will continue to do this for the benefit of the economy of the Island in the most holistic way possible.

2. The MHRA supported the Government in its decision to lock down the island and close the airport to all incoming travel when there was a great deal of uncertainty about the real danger of COVID-19 to people’s lives.

3. Once there was more clarity about the virus and it was deemed by the experts, amongst which were the World Health Organisation and the European Union, that it was safe to reopen the airport the MHRA lobbied for this to happen as fast as possible as this was the only way its members could commence operations and safeguards as many jobs as possible.

4. The MHRA has at all times advocated for the proper protocols to be used across the whole industry from arrivals at the airport to procedures in their members establishments.

5. At no point did the MHRA advocate for mass events to take place. The association categorically denies that it applied any sort of pressure at all to allow for mass events to take place.

6.The MHRA further notes that the various clusters on positive cases have in their majority resulted from local events and not from tourist related cases thereby clearly showing that the recent spike has not been caused by the opening of the airport or by the small number of tourists visiting the Island.

7.The MHRA is not the government. The MHRA is a lobby group that over the years has made numerous suggestions to the government of the time which contributed to the growth of the Tourism industry from which the whole Island has gained. The Association does not take governmental decisions, does not control legislation, and does not implement government policy. Executive decisions taken, over the many years since the inception of MHRA rest solely with the government of the day.

The MHRA further stated that COVID-19 spreads when social distancing protocols are not followed. It is blatantly clear when one moves around the Island and follows various posts by individuals on social media that many people locally continue to treat social distancing in a trivial manner. The MHRA made it clear that the only way the pandemic can be controlled is through everyone following social distancing protocols and was confident that if everyone acted responsibly then the spread of the virus will be brought under control while the economy can continue to function, albeit on a very low speed.

The MHRA concluded by thanking all front liners involved in combatting the virus, most especially the health workers who continue to do an amazing job very often with great personal sacrifice.

Signed by the entire council of the MHRA.

Mr Tony Zahra – President
Mr George Micallef – Senior Vice President Ms Angela Attard Fenech – Vice President Ms Claudienne Harb – Treasurer
Mr Kevin De Cesare – Council Member
Mr Adrian Attard- Council Member
Mr Simon De Cesare – Council Member
Mr Andy Tanti – Council Member
Ms Isabel Debattista – Council Member
Mr Vincent Degiorgio – Council Member Mr Richard Cleland – Council Member
Ms Isabel Debattista – Council Member Ms Rosie Grech – Council Member
Mr Norbert Grixti – Council Member
Mr Jankarl Farrugia – Council Member
Mr Andrew Agius Muscat – MHRA CEO

MHRA, “Clear heads and a balanced approach will ensure best results on COVID-19”

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) notes with satisfaction that since the airport opened, gradual tourism influx together with the Government vouchers scheme and the continuation of salary subsidies started to give hope for economic recovery and survival of businesses and employment related to the travel, hospitality and tourism sector.

For a number of weeks during the reopening of the airport and the economy, the rates of COVID-19 related infections kept being at their lowest levels. As a result of this, thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses from across our economy have to date been maintained. MHRA considers this as a great success when one appreciates the uncertainty and the dynamic environment which the world is currently going through. Indeed, this did not happen by coincidence but is the outcome of collective, constructive and responsible work conducted by stakeholders namely the Ministry for Tourism and Consumer Protection, the Malta Tourism Authority, the Ministry for Health and all our members – hotels and restaurants- who probably are the major victims of this pandemic.

But the difficulties are far from over. As is evident, the pandemic is still very much active at a global level and no one knows what course it will take, how fierce will it be and how long will it take to end.

All stakeholders agree that there are no clear solutions but MHRA believes that the way forward should remain that of working on a balanced approach. Lessons are being learnt from our experience and the experience of others and accordingly the best approach remains that to keep applying reasonable protocols which ensure that life keeps going on whilst securing safety by mitigating risks and embracing sustainable economic conditions.

Extreme positions will guarantee disastrous results and therefore MHRA calls upon Government to keep taking the necessary actions which reflect a balanced approach for the benefit of the public, employers and employees.

The fact remains that if the tourism sector receives a blow, then the rest of the economy will suffer and many jobs, not only those directly related to tourism, will be put at high risk. We are in this together and the only way to get out of it successfully is by working hard together around a table governed by responsible discussion and decisions.

MHRA BOV Deloitte Webinar – Reigniting Tourism

At the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) webinar entitled ‘Reigniting Tourism’, Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection Julia Farrugia Portelli said that during the COVID-19 pandemic the Ministry and all stakeholders worked tirelessly together as much as possible to mitigate the disruptions experienced by the tourism sector. The Minister referred to ongoing innovative marketing strategies spearheaded by MTA to keep Malta fresh in the minds of those who will potentially choose Malta as their next favourite holiday destination. This is now being complemented by more incentives to attract tourists even during the coming winter months by emphasizing that Malta is a safe destination that can offer a wide spectrum of unique experiences.

MHRA President Mr Tony Zahra commended the new initiatives which Minister Farrugia Portelli announced to incentivize more tourists to visit Malta. Mr Zahra asserted that during these times, more and more economic players are now realizing how important is the tourism sector to the rest of the economy. Mr Zahra emphasized that “The airport is now open, and the tourism sector and health authorities are together doing amazing work to ensure that we all remain safe, whilst giving hope to the tourism sector to survive.”

Mr Zahra also stressed the message that the tourism sector is not just about the hotelier and restaurateurs. It is about the farmer, the karozzin operator, the service providers, and many others who directly or indirectly owe their livelihoods to the sector. It is an industry that contributes €2.1 billion a year to the Maltese Economy hence the community as whole and therefore it is fundamentally wrong that someone gives the impression that it is a cash cow for capitalists”

Mr Zahra mentioned that now Malta needs to look ahead and start to reignite the tourism sector by making sure that Malta keeps being portrayed as a safe destination. Mr Zahra stressed that, “First of all we need to stimulate more seats out in the market. Secondly, we must make sure we get passengers to fill in these seats and visit our island. It’s definitely not going to be easy, but we have been through difficult times before and we have always worked together to move forward and succeed.”

Dr Charles Mangion, Air Malta Chairman emphasized that Air Malta is a key contributor to the tourism sector and the Maltese economy beyond just commercial objectives. Dr Mangion stated that after two years of restructuring initiatives which were reaping highly positive results, COVID 19 was now posing serious challenges to the national airline. Industrial disputes are not making the situation easier but Dr Mangion stressed that jointly all the stakeholders who value the critical role of Airmalta to the economy will eventually ensure that the airline will survive the current challenges and prosper in the future.

Mr Albert Frendo, BOV Chief Credit Officer stated that the bank will remain supportive to those tourism and hospitality operators who have a solid business model and hence can demonstrate that they can rebound once the economy reignites.

Mr Johann Buttigieg, MTA CEO asserted that promoting Malta as a safe destination has become a critical element in the initiatives being spearheaded towards reigniting the tourism sector. Mr Buttigieg stressed the importance of the safety protocols and the obligation by operators to abide with them in order to ensure that Malta remains a safe destination. He also announced that protocols are now being reviewed to allow for more activity in the tourism and hospitality sector, such as events and conferences.

Filip Boyen, Forbes Travel Guide CEO said that tourism across the world is now facing challenges and that rebound will not happen quickly and without pains. Mr Boyen commended MTA’s initiatives including the training of employees working across the tourism, travel, and hospitality sector in Malta as a unique, timely and visionary action. Mr Boyen suggested that this moment in time can become an opportunity for the policy makers and the operators to work together in restructuring the sector to ensure that at the right time it will come out as stronger and a winner for all.

Deloitte’s Financial Advisory and Hospitality Sector Leader, Raphael Aloisio, analysed international consumer sentiment survey data to corroborate why one cannot realistically expect an excessively accelerated recovery of global tourism trends.

The following are some of the key points which came out of the presentation:

  • 65% of international hoteliers believe that they would not achieve pre-covid levels of business before 2023;
  • Cash Flow management and health and safety are currently the top priorities for hotels;
  • Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 will see a spike in the number of entities facing distressed circumstances;
  • Internet searches about Malta are picking up momentum and are beginning to approach levels achieved prior to March 2020;
  • Although international consumer anxiety levels are improving, they remain high;
  • Although people are beginning to consider making international flight arrangements, the general level of apprehension associated with taking an international flight remains high;
  • People feel far less concerned about going to a restaurant, staying in a hotel or in private accommodation as compared to taking a flight; and
  • Notwithstanding the lingering concerns regarding safety, the number of people actively considering the possibilities of booking an international flight and / or a hotel stay in the coming 3 months is steadily increasing across geographies and age cohorts. Given the very significant loss of economic activity associated with a slower recover pace, Mr. Aloisio, floated the idea that, in order to shorten the prospective recovery period, government and stakeholders in hospitality and consumer businesses could work together to launch products and offers, which could sway prospective tourists decision in favour of choosing Malta as their holiday destination.

MHRA – this is the moment of truth for AirMalta

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) refers to the unfortunate situation which is once again being dominated by disagreements between management and the pilots at Airmalta.

In such difficult times for our economy, in particular for the tourism sector, MHRA appeals that all parties at AirMalta must align their efforts and energies towards one goal – that to keep Airmalta flying for the benefit and welfare of the Maltese people and economy. Significantly, this objective underlies the rational for the creation and thereafter all the investments made by Government and the Maltese taxpayer in AirMalta over the past decades to keep it operational.

MHRA recognizes and salutes the efforts and sacrifices which the majority of the AirMalta employees, similarly to those employed by its members, are currently experiencing. MHRA asserts that cost cutting measures introduced by management across the travel, hospitality and tourism sector at a global level have not been motivated by profitability goals but rather by efforts to survive this crisis. The continuous battles between ALPA and Airmalta management are now seriously jeopardizing every effort which Government is carrying out to reignite the economy.

Without entering into the merits of who is right or wrong MHRA remarks that it is now high time for ALPA and AirMalta management to realize that shooting at each other’s foot will only aggravate matters not only for Airmalta but more significantly for the thousands of employees and operators whose livelihoods depend upon the travel, hospitality and tourism sector. MHRA remarks that ALPA cannot pretend to be treated by exception and that all stakeholders are expected to share the burdens caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

MHRA has always been at the forefront to advocate in favour of doing whatever is possible to keep AirMalta flying because it has always argued that AirMalta would be critical in helping the Maltese economy recover should one day be hit by difficulties. Now we are facing unprecedented times for our economy and is therefore the moment of truth for AirMalta to live up to expectations. Unless AirMalta can come forward with the support of ALPA to help the economy recover then the reason for having a national airline is extinguished.

MHRA welcomes decision to reignite the economy

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) welcomes the announcement by Prime Minister Robert Abela that restrictions on all flight destinations will be lifted on July 15, and that the public health emergency declared at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic will also be lifted in the coming hours.

During the later part of May MHRA was vocal in its lobbying with government for the restaurants to open by the end of May and the airport to open on the 15 June. The restaurants were allowed to open slightly before the end of May and the airport on the 1st July but limited to a number of destinations.

During the past week MHRA has followed up on the request to open to more countries given that the reported take up for July for the airports that were allowed to open was on the low side. MHRA is extremely pleased to note that it’s lobbying position is now in sync with Government’s decision to have Malta’s airport open to all countries.

MHRA President Tony Zahra states that, “The Prime Minister’s announcement that now it’s time for Malta to start its journey back to normality is very good news and fills us with great determination to turn the current difficult situation round. Reigniting the economy in particular the tourism sector will be challenging but we are confident that pulling together can change what is an extremely difficult situation into an opportunity.”

Mr Zahra also expressed appreciation to Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Julia Farrugia Portelli, Permenant Secretary Ronald Mizzi, MTA Chairman Dr Gavin Gulia and CEO Johann Buttigieg for their relentless work and collaboration with MHRA and determination to ensure such result.

Tony Zahra president of MHRA says that “we are getting encouraging support and feedback from stakeholders from across the tourism sector including hotels and restaurants. The training opportunities offered by the Ministry of Tourism, MTA and MHRA amongst other learning partners to employees across the tourism sector whilst being at home, and the government’s economic incentives not only helped to save jobs but have significantly prepared businesses to start working on the recovery phase. We hope that this latest important development will spur all the trade to get back to normality as soon as possible.”

Government stimulus package – well thought out and major boost for the Tourism Industry: MHRA

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) which, since the arrival of COVID-19 in Malta, has been meeting with government continuously welcomes the financial and business development support announced today by government.

MHRA President Tony Zahra noted that, “the economic regeneration plan demonstrates that the Government has the right feel of the economic and social situation brought on by Covid-19 and this plan will effectively contribute to reigniting the tourism sector and the rest of the economy. The coming months will not be easy for hotels and restaurants, however, an economic stimulus of circa €900 million will definitely boost confidence in the tourism sector as a whole and augurs well for consumers, employees and all other stakeholders including investors.”

The plan is very far reaching and includes in so far as the hospitality industry is concerned:

€200 million in tax deferrals till the end of August;
50% refund on electricity bills for next three months, dedicating €30million to aid businesses hit badly by the pandemic;
7c reduction in fuel prices from Monday 15th June 2020;
Inwork benefit scheme to be enhanced with a €4 million investment;
COVID-19 wage supplement for tourism workers to be paid until end of September;
€100 voucher to everyone aged 16+. Money is to be used in hotels, restaurants, and shops to help boost local economy;
€50 million dedicated to helping business with operating costs related to rent;
Businesses under Micro invest will benefit from a conversion of tax credits into grants;
The cost of business licenses for an entire year will be refunded to allow businesses;
€5 million invested in a promotional campaign for Maltese and Gozitans businesses.

The Economic Regeneration Plan does not leave any stone unturned and is a clear demonstration that the Government has taken on board the serious difficulties faced by all stakeholders of the industry and has come up with a package that is indeed impressive.

On behalf of all stakeholders Mr Zahra expressed sincere recognition of the hard work and the efforts of Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela, the Ministry for Tourism and Consumer Affairs, the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses and the Malta Tourism Authority in working closely with MHRA during these extraordinary times. MHRA recognizes the difficulties that lie ahead but is fully energized to address these and overcome them in the shortest possible time in order to ensure sustainability across the tourism sector by attracting tourists to Malta as the first destination of choice.

MHRA, “Start working together to protect livelihoods”

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) commends the efforts being undertaken to date by the Government in addressing the unprecedented impacts on both public health and the economy in Malta caused by the global COVID 19 pandemic. MHRA recognises that over a very short period of time the global economy was brought to an unexpected, sudden halt as thousands of people across the world started to get infected leading also to loss of life due to the COVID 19 spread.

Undoubtedly, during such difficult times MHRA asserts that human life and humanity must prevail above everything and it has been encouraging to see how the Maltese Government adopted prompt measures to contain the pandemic. Remarkably, facts at hand today reveal that the impact of COVID 19 on public health in Malta was much less dramatic than was expected. This however came at a hefty economic price, with probably the transport, travel, tourism, hospitality, sports, entertainment sectors and everything that supports socialising being hit the hardest and are now suffering badly.

MHRA President Tony Zahra assets that, “The tourism sector in Malta has reached ground zero as result of this crises and is now desperate to reopen and face the “new” normality.” MHRA emphasizes that it is important that we keep safeguarding lives but equally important that we need to start working together to protect livelihoods. Our medical authorities need to keep being vigilant and perform their essential and respectful role in our society but we also need to reignite our economy. The economy will not be as we’ve been accustomed to over the past years – it will be a new reality for all, however we cannot keep procrastinating from opening our tourism sector.

Mr Zahra emphasises that, “Every day that passes the economy is sinking further and further into trouble and every day that passes Government is spending circa 11 million euros per day or 330 million euros per month to keep everyone at home, money which the Government is borrowing and has to be repaid from everybody’s taxes in the future. If we don’t open the airport then we shall see mass unemployment as there is no reason for anyone in the tourist industry to hold on to staff if there is no summer. Operators in the tourism industry will let everyone go and rehire in Easter 2021 – provided of course they are still around by that time. This is not a threat, this is not an argument supporting wealth against health or otherwise – this is a fact of life.

Therefore, MHRA appeals to Government that now is time to steer the direction towards reigniting our economy through the tourism sector whilst ensuring reasonable safety measures for staff, employees and residents reflecting the new reality which we all need to adapt to rather than hide from.”

MHRA welcomes Government’s support for online training of tourism workforce

Malta, like the rest of the countries across the world, is facing an unprecedented challenge as the tourism sector has been brought to a sudden halt due to the COVID 19 pandemic and related travel restrictions which have been imposed across almost every country in the world.

MHRA President Tony Zahra states that, “Tourism in Malta last year accounted for 2.1 billion euro out of a total GDP of circa 12.5billion euro. With the sudden lockdown, MHRA is expecting significant losses spilling over to the coming months. The Government support measures agreed to with MHRA to help liquidity and ensure job security across the tourism sector have been an important development, and currently, an extension of these measures and actions are being discussed to address the latest developments and realities.”

MHRA believes that the tourism sector will be a critical economic sector to once again relaunch Malta as a small but successful economy forming part of the EU.

MHRA welcomes the initiative being spearheaded by the Minister of Tourism and Consumer Protection and Malta Tourism Authority to support various online training opportunities being offered for free to employees working across the travel, tourism and hospitality sector. Mr Zahra asserts that, “Whilst now working hard with the various stakeholders on strategies needed to bring back our economy to normality, we support the initiative spearheaded by Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli to provide opportunities of upskilling and reskilling of the workforce operating across the tourism sector in order to be better prepared to meet the new challenges that our sector will be facing in the coming months. This indeed is a world-class action.”

Towards this end, amongst others, MHRA will be making available over 1,800 free online courses delivered by seasoned tutors and experts from Forbes Travel Guide and various other leading international learning organisations. Free study bursaries will also be offered for English language courses for tourism operators and specialisation courses in Governmental and Institutional Travel and Tourism accredited by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and offered by the Spanish GITT Institute. Free career counselling will also be offered. For more information on how to access for free these online courses, one can visit https://winning.mhra.org.mt or call on 21318133.

A webinar explaining details about the WINNING online training programme will be organised, so those interested to attend are kindly requested to register on https://winning.mhra.org.mt/register- your-interest/

MHRA : Tourism will remain a Winner

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) refers to the article “Virus impact on tourism ‘could cost economy €3bn’” published today by The Times of Malta.

MHRA states that the measures to mitigate the economic crises caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic announced this week by the Maltese Government in agreement with MHRA and social partners are in sync with other measures announced by other countries. MHRA President Tony Zahra asserts that “These were previously unthinkable and their global impact is unprecedented. Tourism is particularly affected by the consequences of the pandemic and travel restrictions have been imposed in almost every country in the world. Tourism in Malta last year accounted for 2.1 billion euro out of a total GDP of 12 million euro and despite that we are expecting significant losses over the course of this year, it’s not 3 billion euro as The Times of Malta is stating in its cover story today.” Indeed, the tourism sector in the first months of the year marked record performance levels and as soon as travel restrictions will start to be relaxed, MHRA is confident that the tourism sector will gradually be picking up before the end of this year. Undoubtedly, weeks of uncertainty lie ahead of us and no one can really foretell the future – that’s why claims made today by the Times of Malta that there can be a loss of 50,000 jobs may sound too sensational and cause unnecessary and unfounded alarms during such sensitive times.

MHRA President Tony Zahra emphasizes that, “If anything, MHRA is working closely with the social partners and Government to safeguard the 50,000 jobs and more.”

Mr Zahra further explains that “Significantly, measures of support to the tourism sector which MHRA together with Government have devised aim to maintain work processes and systems in place as much as possible, hence ensuring job security and consequently enough capacity to relaunch operations at the right moment. Now it’s not the time to travel the world. But one thing is for sure: people’s desire to travel and dine out will always be strong. As soon as the crisis situation returns to normal, Malta needs to be ready – and this is what the agreed measures aim to achieve. Then we can do what we do best: Hosting guests and offering our customers a unique tourism experience.”